Coach Dan & Betty Hart
Coach Dan And Betty Hart’s Dance in Life Over 22,000 Days – And Counting; They Have Traveled the World. From Depression Era Children Through Today, Their Stories Include Tragedies, Triumphs, & Public Policy Battles That Have Shaped Their Enduring Love Story
Coach Dan and Betty Hart’s incredible journey through life that began with their wedding on July 2, 1955 was very nearly cut short in a tragic accident just 10 years into what has become an enduring and continuing 63 plus year love story. It’s a life filled with triumphs and tragedies, opportunities to see the world, and over the last 30 years a firm ‘action’ commitment to public policy justice on an issue that has inspired them both for the last three decades.
Armed with a degree from Rice University and coaching at the prestigious Kinkaid school in Houston, Dan and Betty were returning from a game he coached in Austin by private vehicle with his sister Bernice and husband David when an alleged intoxicated driver slammed into their car. Bernice and David were dead at the scene. Dan was severely injured and Betty, near death at the scene, miraculously survived.
“To confront the reality of death of a loved one in a moment of total suddenness realizing that only the grace of God let me and Betty survive is a life changing moment,” Coach Hart says. “You go from understanding in a theoretical way that every day of life is precious to truly understanding with full realization that every day is actually precious.”
For Coach and Betty, ‘every day counts’ is more than a figure of speech.
For both, their lives began as the nation was in the throes of the Great Depression.
As Betty says and Coach agrees, “Our families had very little money to spend and absolutely no money to waste. It was a very frugal childhood but like most children raised in that era, it gave us a full appreciation for the gifts of life that have come our way since.”
For Coach, he was born in San Angelo, Texas on November 30, 1931. Betty was born on January 5, 1931 in Brownsville. Both families took different routes to Houston before the pair met in 1955. Until that time, their families had very similar life experiences.
Both families had fathers that were entrepreneurs before that phrase ever became popular. Coach’s dad John was a tinsmith who made a living repairing car radiators. He opened his own shop in Houston after moving the family there. Dan’s brother Maurice Hart, who is now deceased, built a business in Houston building radiators. His descendants still operate a business that is a direct lineage from the father who died in the 1970’s.
Coach’s two other sisters – Ruth and Anita – have also died. Ruth was a housewife while Anita passed in 2009.
Betty’s family took a little longer to get to Houston than the Harts. However, the backgrounds were familiar.
At one point, Betty’s father Elmer worked for the Phillips Company and her mother Guelma was a housewife taking care of Betty and sister Barbara. The family’s first stop after leaving Brownsville was Borger where they lived in one of the Phillips’ “camp” houses as they were known at the time.
Betty even has her own story that competes with Coach’s story of falling backwards into a cactus plant. Railroad tracks ran through the Phillips camp. One day out wandering on her own near her home, Betty got her foot trapped in the railroad tracks. Fortunately, trains going through the camp were had a very rigid speed limit rule and the conductor was able to stop the train in time. But over 70 years later, Coach still calls Betty ‘superwoman’ for stopping a ‘speeding’ train.
From Borger after losing his job at Phillips, Elmer moved the family to Pampa where he opened a machine shop. Pampa is where Betty started the first grade. But, in about 1937, the family packed up and moved to Houston. Once again, the father opened a machine shop which he owned and operated until he retired.
Both families were steeped in religious values.
“My mother was very meticulous about no smoking, no drinking, and no messing around,” Coach says. “Dad worked in his one-man shop as a welder and repairing radiators and mom was the disciplinarian of the family.”
While in Houston, both families were fortunate to have wage earners because they ran their own shops; worked long hours; and made a success of their business efforts. But, that didn’t mean there was a lot of money to throw around.
Both Coach and Betty both remember well that their moms raised chickens to prepare for that all-important Sunday lunch. For both, “Sunday’s lunch was a big deal.”
For Coach, even when he was attending Deady Junior High School and Milby High School, he needed to have a job. That meant yard work and other odd jobs but also include some regular ‘gigs’ at a city park. However it was his student ‘job’ as star quarterback of the Milby football team that caught the eye of the iconic Jess Neely – head coach of the Rice Owls which led to a full scholarship at the even-then prestigious institution.
As a result of the scholarship and his football career, he was able to participate in one of the more famous games in college history – Rice’s 28-6 pounding of Alabama (which included future Hall of Famer Bart Staar) in the 1954 Cotton Bowl made memorable forever by the legendary play when an Alabama player on the sidelines came off the bench to tackle Rice’s Dickie Moegle (later Maegle) who was awarded a touchdown on the play.
Not only did he participate in the game, he was named the outstanding lineman playing both offense and defense of that year’s Cotton Bowl. Above and beyond his overall performance in that historical game for Rice, it was probably his bone-crushing, fumbling causing tackle against future hall of famer Staar the left an impression.
Beyond that, Rice fans and historians of the program will never forget the near miraculous touchdown reception that he made against the University of Texas earlier that season that propelled the Owls to that Cotton Bowl showdown.
For Betty who spent her time in Houston I.S.D. starting at Burnett Elementary School before graduating from Stephen F. Austin in 1949, the family was like many: they made the best with what they had and didn’t feel bad about doing it.
Betty remembers the trips to watch movies for a nickel; being on a bowling team, but not having television until after she graduated from high school. She did not go to college after graduation, and continued to live at home until she got married.
As young adults having spent most of their lives in Houston, it didn’t take that long for Coach and Betty to meet.
Even before he finalized his degree from Rice University, Coach earned the title of Coach that he chooses to carry today as his substitute first name. “One of the greatest opportunities I have had in life is to be a coach and mentor to young men and women. The kids called me coach and I grew to appreciate the meaning and symbolism of what that meant to me and the youth I worked with.”
That first opportunity to coach came at the prestigious private school at Kinkaid in Houston. With some strong references from Neely, he was named the athletic director and coach of every sport as he was finishing out his degree. Literally, Coach went from the thrill of a Cotton Bowl victory to coaching at Kinkaid three days later to wrapping up his undergraduate degree at Rice. He subsequently earned his master’s degree from the University of Houston.
Meanwhile Betty got a job at J.C. Penney but then decided to take some courses at a business school which allowed her to pursue a position at Humble Oil (now Exxon), a job she pursued for about a decade.
Their first meeting came at church where “Dan was leading the choir in a song.” The brief encounter was suggested if not arranged by a mutual friend. Perhaps it is fair to say that Coach was very impressed initially and Betty was perhaps less so. Within a couple of weeks, he asked Betty for a date to go to a play. She already had other plans – attending a football game with another guy at the old Busch Stadium that stood along the Gulf Freeway near downtown Houston.
As the football player he was and the coach he had become, he called an audible. Coach showed up at Busch Stadium; arranged to sit with a couple of other coaches about two rows below Betty and her date. By July 2, 1955, the other ‘date’ was long forgotten and Coach and Betty’s journey that has now reached over 63 years began.
As previously noted, that journey survived the horrific car crash in 1965.
Along the way, the Harts have had an adventurous life that has included highly successful business ventures, traveling the world, and Coach’s later in life transition to becoming a public policy advocate on what he has come to label as a fatally flawed and organizationally dishonest property tax system in Texas.
Recall that both Coach’s and Betty’s families had a long and proud history reaching back to the Great Depression of owning and operating businesses. While it did not make their families wealthy, it gave them security and stability that millions of families in that era did not have.
While Coach was at Kinkaid and Betty was working at Humble Oil, the two became active investors in the car wash business starting in 1961. Joining with a family member and another partner, they acquired a selfservice car wash in Austin which happened to be essentially across the freeway from UT Memorial Stadium – in other words real estate that was primed to become super important.
From one car wash operation to four in Austin and eventually to Galveston, the business venture grew. In a real twist of entrepreneurship for such operations, the partnership decided to open old-fashioned hamburger joints at a couple of them including the one in Galveston.
They continued to operate the enterprises for several years before selling out including some of that prime real estate.
The Harts have not literally seen the entire world, but they have arranged to see an incredible part of it over the years with their annual vacations.
From the continental divide in Colorado to the pyramids of Egypt and from Thailand, Greece, India, and Turkey to points closer to home in the United States and Canada, and ports of call in between, these Depression-era kids, survivors of a horrible car crash, and mentors to young men and women as they reached young adulthood have lived and continue to live on a remarkable journey.
Even more remarkable as they approach their ninth decade of life, they still wake up every morning still full of energy and still committed to making every minute count.
In both personal commitment and in using their resources, Coach Dan and Betty Hart have been warriors for a public policy cause in a way and with an absolute devotion that most men and women leave in the rear view mirror when they reach a traditional retirement age.
Both Coach and Betty described their parents from the Depression Era as not having a lot of money but having no money to waste.
Some 80 years removed from their early childhood of a totally different era, a twist of that saying rings true. Coach and Betty don’t have a lot of time to look in the rear view mirror. However many days that this remarkable couple has left; they will live it as they always have with their eyes firmly fixed on the future committed to doing what is right for all the right reasons.
Closing on their nine decades of life, each remain full speed ahead.